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  • Main Street (2010) | Review

    AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010

    By | November 13, 2010

    Director: John Doyle

    Writer(s): Horton Foote

    Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Orlando Bloom, Colin Firth, Patricia Clarkson, Andrew McCarthy, Ellen Burstyn

    Georgiana (Ellen Burstyn) lives alone in the grand old family estate of her father’s defunct tobacco plantation in Durham, North Carolina. To make ends meet, she has rented out one of her vacant tobacco warehouses to a Texan named Gus Leroy (Colin Firth). Questioning her own judgment, Georgiana enlists her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson) to assist her in rethinking this agreement with Gus, but first she wants to know what Gus is storing in the warehouse. The answer: toxic waste (the new frontier of our economy).

    A somewhat unrelated subplot focuses on a young cop by day and law student by night named Harris (Orlando Bloom) and his ex-girlfriend Mary (Amber Tamblyn). Mary has moved on and is dating an older co-worker, Howard (Andrew McCarthy), from Raleigh; nonetheless, Harris continues to nag, call and basically stalk Mary…but this is okay because he still loves her. Other than exemplifying how confused and irresponsible young people in small towns (though Durham, with over 250,000 residents, does not really qualify as a small town) can be, these two characters really serve no purpose.

    Main Street (no relation to Sinclair Lewis’ novel) is one of the first films in a long while that actually made me angry…and not in a good way.

    I guess I have a problem with actors speaking in non-natural accents, especially when the actors have very prominent accents to begin with. For example, British or Australian actors playing Americans with thick as molasses southern accents. Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom are perfect examples of this – I do not find it natural, in fact I find it extremely distracting, to hear them speak in accents that are supposed to be native to Texas and North Carolina. It would not be so bad if Firth and Bloom (both extremely capable actors) were able to pull off the accents well, but they do not; in fact, they fail miserably.

    The accents are not the only thing that got my panties all in a bunch. My biggest annoyance is more political — Main Street seems to be a Palin-esque eulogy for the good old days, back when Main Streets across the United States bustled with business and when tobacco was not directly associated with cancer and dying (thanks to the pesky meddling of big government regulators). Young people are confused and act irrationally; they crave education and have no commitment to their family or their hometown. The older generations and the average folk (you know, the “Joe the Plummers” of the country) are feeling the pains of the economic downturn and forced to make drastic compromises – such as allowing a Texan and his two Hispanic (read: immigrant) guards to store hazardous waste on one’s property as well as selling their cherished family estate where they have lived every day of their lives. (But the elderly of America will not have to worry for very long – according to the Republicans, Tea Party and Libertarians at least – because the “socialist by conduct” President Obama and his Obamacare will kill them as soon as possible in order to make way for more young urban intellectuals.)

    Also, it is quite a stretch to blame the youth of today — as Main Street seems to do — for the demise of the Main Streets across the United States. Youth started moving away from small towns not because they hated their families or because the town was boring, but because there was no work available. Small town economies were not adaptable to population growth and modernity; they could not compete with the colossal corporate chains stealing away revenue from local businesses. In short, as I see it, it was the unfair competition born of a corporate-biased free market system that destroyed Main Street, not the youth of today.

    Main Street is all about looking backward and that is certainly not going to help anyone at this point. For better or worse (mostly worse), we live in a much different world than when Main Streets were thriving. Please do not misunderstand me — whenever I have the option (which I often do, living in Austin), I shop at local businesses. I would love for the United States to re-prioritize its economic strategies to strengthen local economies, allowing for more locally owned businesses to thrive in their hometown. My problem with Main Street is that it is too busy whining about the demise of Main Streets and pointing fingers at who and what caused the problem (or at least that is what I think this muddled mess of a movie is doing), rather than offering any viable solutions.

    It is extremely sad that waste disposal might just become the backbone of our economy in the near future — I certainly agree with Main Street on that point — and for some people that might be reason enough to produce more and more waste (the more hazardous and longer-lasting the better). But, have you ever considered what long-term effects hazardous waste (and waste in general) is going to have on our environment? (Oh, that’s right, climate change does not exist. Sorry, how so very naïve of me to believe scientific evidence over corporate and religious propaganda.)

    All politics (and bad accents) aside, John Doyle directorial debut is a horrible mess of a film. I thought the acting powerhouses (Burstyn, Clarkson and Firth) as well as Bloom and Tamblyn would make Main Street a worthwhile film, but in simply portraying uncreative stereotypes, they were given no opportunity to truly utilize their acting talents. It also does not help that Main Street gets so damn lost in terms of plot and message.

    Horton Foote’s (the inaugural recipient of the Austin Film Festival’s Distinguished Screenwriter Award in 1995) daughter Hallie introduced the screening at the 2010 Austin Film Festival, saying that her deceased father was 92 years old when he wrote Main Street which is his final screenplay. Hopefully history will choose to forget Main Street and instead remember Foote as the scriptwriter of films such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Chase (1966).

    Rating: 2/10


    Topics: Film Reviews, News | 4 Comments »

    • Johngarrett911

      Main Street is yet another liberal Hollywood message movie masquerading as entertainment. The dialog is lame and the message is lame. Their subplots are no more than sugar syrup to get you to swallow their progressive poison that “all technology is bad.” Strip away all of the subterfuge and what do you have left? Recycling industrial waste is all bad! A true lie if I ever heard one. Obviously this movie was made to promote the progressive anti-industrial agenda by forming public opinion against recycling industrial waste. They don’t tell you where the waste came from nor do they tell you what products or materials were manufactured to produce the waste. And they certainly don’t tell you how many people earned an income generating this so-called evil waste.
      Doyle and Foote must hate average Americans – assuming Americans are their intended target — because of their underhanded use of illegal Hispanic laborers to foment hatred towards the evil industrial waste.
      Why did Doyle and Foote choose an American town for this so-called movie? I thought progressives had successfully driven away most manufacturing in this country? Oh I understand now. They want to form public opinion against building more nuclear power plants. So where does Doyle and Foote think we’ll get the juice to charge up our electric cars? Then again, where will we find jobs to afford the $40,000 electric cars in the first place?
      If you think I spent too much time on the politics of this movie, then I have made my point.

    • GalvestonGrrrl

      Its interesting that you trash the accents of the foreigners only. I thought Bloom’s and Tamblyn’s accents matched. Aren’t they supposed to have grown up together? And, Firth’s accent was better than most you hear in “Friday Night Lights.” In fact, it sounds just like my old boyfriend from Wharton, which is Foote’s hometown. I think you just get irritated when you expect to hear an actor talk one way and they talk another. That’s not the reason this film sucked.

    • http://www.facebook.com/reid.dalton Reid Dalton

      First, I am obliged to acknowledge that my opinion is not unbiased with respect to this movie. I am in it. I play the real estate agent whom Georgiana Carr, played by Ellen Burstyn, consults when deciding whether to sell her home and warehouse. I would also acknowledge that Horton Foote’s concern about dying Southern towns and their desperate moves to attract livelihoods that pose a danger to body and soul was artificially transposed onto Durham, North Carolina’s “City of Medicine”, which for that reason produces more hazardous waste than it can ever accept as a depository. After viewing Foote’s last stage play, “Dividing the Estate”, I gather that hazardous waste was a preoccupation of Foote’s, perhaps in the environs of his home community in Texas. But that really doesn’t matter. I am amazed that among the reviewers whose comments are published here, one sees this as a right-wing nostalgic paean to the days of no government regulation and another sees in it a left-wing plot to strangle America’s ability to rebuild its industrial economic base. Clearly these individuals each carried their own political concerns into the theater when they sat down to watch this film.

      If you are looking for a film with a political message, or even a Hollywood action flick or suspenseful drama, this is not the movie for you. This is a film about characters, and that is why the actors hired to fill the major roles are such renowned performers and why their salaries form the bulk of the budget for this movie. As the director, John Doyle, told me, this film will succeed or fail on the basis of what the actors bring to the screen, if the people they reveal to us, Georgiana, Harris, Gus, Willa, and Mary, are real and compelling. Well, I can tell you I read the original script and I saw the finished product as presented on the opening night of the 2010 Austin Film Festival, and this film exceeds all my expectations for it. Ellen Burstyn gives us every woman who, left land poor in her autumn years, must contend with the awful choice of giving up the only home she has known in her life while assuring herself that it will be turned over to those who will be appreciative stewards of what they are about to receive. Colin Firth gives us, not the cardboard cutout of a heartless, profit-driven businessman, but a person who believes in the value of an unattractive enterprise the necessity of which others would prefer to ignore, and who attends to his work conscientiously, winning not only the confidence but also the heart of his most skeptical critic. Amber Tamblyn and Orlando Bloom give us, not an oh so predictable Hollywood romance between a child of privilege and a diamond in the rough, but two young people whose love for one another seems to have been derailed by the difficulties of their lives and of their families at every turn, and whose perseverance allows both to see in one another possibilities that beguile a viewing audience unaccustomed to seeing reality in a way even “reality television” can’t hope to provide. Even the movie’s City of Durham, if not a believable depiction of the real city of universities and hospitals, of scientific research and technological innovation, is, in fact, an accurate glimpse of many small towns nestled among the farms of North Carollina, now reft of the wealth of the harvest of tobacco crops and wondering where they will turn to keep from dying.

      This is a film about real people in real places confronting real problems in ways that make us nod our heads in knowing understanding, and compel us to hope against hope for their future. This is the gift left to us by Horton Foote as the culmination of his life’s work, infused with the love and care given to it by the director, cast and crew who worked upon it for a few glorious weeks in the Bull City in the spring of 2009. It should not be carelessly discarded.

    • Nick

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